Saturday, 23 October 2021
7:30 p.m. MST
Helena Civic Center

Watch live on YouTube.
Saturday, 23 October 2021

A concert of healing to remember those lost during the pandemic – three miniatures of Mahler allow us to reflect. Legendary Italian composer Gioachino Rossini brings his flair for operatic drama, passion, love, and loss to the setting of Stabat Mater – a recounting of the Virgin Mary’s devastation over the death of her son.

Cameron Betchey Host
Allan R. Scott Conductor
Saundra DeAthos Soprano
Teresa Buchholz Mezzo Soprano
John Bellemer Tenor
John Green Baritone

Reflect, remember, and heal with us.

Enter the names of loved ones you have lost and would like to be remembered.

Cheryl Leptich

Ardelle Thronson

Jack Hamlin

Merry Lunde

Merton Paul Zuelke

Margarette Ann "Mike" Archibald

Marcie Bugni

Curtin Stinson

Brian Humle

Sonny Stiger

Chief Earl Old Person

John Prine

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Debbie Zuidema

Kay Francis Cohen

John A. Teberg

Sandra Brockbank

Cory Casagrande

Dr. & Mrs. William Ballinger

Barbara Kenny

Robert Cummins

Bruce Duenkler

Echolyn Travis

Maggie Long

Tim Reardon

Susan Hamilton

Henry Van Wormer

Wayne Peterson

Patsy Spear

Rodney Capistran

Ella Auch Shields

Tony Harrah

John P. Shaw

Russ Cargo

Heather Barnes

Murphy Fox

Joan Duncan

Byron Roberts

Irene Roberts

Ed Noonan

Harry Greisser

Josephine Therriault

Irene Kolbash

Russel Cargo

This concert is sponsored in part by generous support from:
Guests’ appearances are sponsored by the generous support of:
In partnership with:
Music Director & Conductor

Currently in his nineteenth season as Music Director of the Helena Symphony Orchestra & Chorale, Maestro Allan R. Scott is recognized as one of the most dynamic figures in symphonic music and opera today. He is widely noted for his outstanding musicianship, versatility, and ability to elicit top-notch performances from musicians. SYMPHONY Magazine praised Maestro Scott for his “large orchestra view,” noting that “under Scott’s leadership the quality of the orchestra’s playing has skyrocketed.”

About the Guest Artists

Having appeared with the Helena Symphony numerous times, Lyric Soprano Saundra DeAthos has been heralded for the remarkable quality of both her vocal and dramatic presentations. Most recently, she has received rave reviews at Utah Festival Opera for her portrayals of “Giorgetta” in Il Tabarro and the title role in Suor Angelica. Ms. DeAthos has graced the stages of many outstanding opera companies across the United States, such as San Francisco Opera, Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Boston Lyric Opera, Virginia Opera, Amarillo Opera, Sacramento Opera, and Opera Illinois among others.

In addition to her operatic activities, Ms. DeAthos performs regularly with symphony orchestras throughout the United States including the San Francisco Symphony, Charleston Symphony Orchestra, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, Sinfonia da Camera, Illinois Symphony Orchestra, Fresno Symphony Orchestra, Southeastern Pennsylvania Symphony Orchestra, Elgin Symphony Orchestra, and others. She offers a remarkably broad concert repertoire that encompasses Handel’s Messiah and Jeptha, Mozart’s Requiem and Coronation Mass, Dvořák’s Te Deum, Brahms’ Ein Deutches Requiem, Górecki’s Symphony No. 3, the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, Poulenc’s Gloria and Fauré’s Requiem. She was featured in Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem with Charleston Symphony Orchestra & Chorus for a performance telecast on PBS.

Versatile Mezzo Soprano Teresa Buchholz enjoys success in the realms of opera, art song, and oratorio. She recently soloed with the New Jersey Choral Society on a concert featuring Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 and Choral Fantasy and performed the role of “Domna Ivanovna Sobyrova” in a staged production of “The Tsar’s Bride” by Rimsky-Korsakov as part of the Bard Music Festival. She soloed in Handel’s Messiah at the Bardavon Theatre in Poughkeepsie, in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 with The Orchestra Now at Bard College, and in the role of Berta in a New York City concert version of the rarely heard opera Il Grillo del Focolare by Riccardo Zandonai. 

In past years she has been heard in Bach’s Christmas Oratorio with the Rhode Island Civic Chorale and Orchestra, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 at Lincoln Center with the National Chorale, a staged version of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion with Gulfshore Opera, Vivaldi’s Gloria with the Berkshire Bach Society and the Stamford Symphony, and Bach’s Magnificat with Voices of Ascension. Verdi’s Requiem is quickly becoming a staple of her repertoire, and she has recently performed the work with True Concord Chorus and Orchestra, the Helena Symphony, the New Jersey Choral Society, the Lake Como Music Festival (Italy), and will perform the work with Long Beach Symphony in 2021.

A graduate of the Yale University Opera Program, Indiana University, and the University of Northern Iowa, Ms. Buchholz has been delighted to have spent several summers as a young artist with the Santa Fe Opera, the Opera Theatre of St. Louis, and the Natchez Opera. 

Ms. Buchholz appears courtesy of Wade Artist Management (New York, NY).

Possessed of a voice The New York Times calls “clarion-toned”, the American Tenor John Bellemer has gained a reputation for his strong portrayals in a wide range of repertoire. Bellemer has appeared in leading roles at opera houses across North America and Europe and was featured as Gounod’s Faust in the Academy Award-nominated film Lincoln.

As concert artist, Mr. Bellemer has appeared with the Columbus Symphony, Baltimore Symphony, Winnipeg Symphony, Pacific Symphony, L’orchestre de Bretagne, Orchestra de Leonardo da Vinci, Toledo Symphony, New York Choral Society, Calgary Philharmonic, Bangor Symphony, American Symphony Orchestra, Berkeley Symphony Orchestra, Choral Arts Society of Washington DC, and the Oratorio Society of New York.

Mr. Bellemer’s extensive North American credits include performances with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Boston Lyric Opera, Florida Grand Opera, New York City Opera, San Francisco Opera, San Diego Opera, Madison Opera, and the Cleveland Opera, among many others. International appearances include Opéra National de Bordeaux, Opéra National de Lorraine, Opéra de Rouen, Teatro San Carlo di Napoli, Teatro Lirico di Cagliari, Teatro delle Muse, Spoleto Festival dei Due Mondi, Opéra de Rennes, Theater Erfurt, Stadttheater Giessen, Opéra Royal de Wallonie, Estonian National Opera, and Teatro Arriaga.

Mr. Bellemer appears courtesy of Athlone Artists (Lenox, MA).

Hailed at his Carnegie Hall debut for his “rich and deep sound,” versatile Baritone John Robert Green returns to Helena. Mr. Green recently had great success with his Wagnerian debut as “Gunther” in Götterdämmerung with LidalNorth. He enthralled Norwegian audiences with his transfixing “Tarquinius” in Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia and his enchanting “Peter” in Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel and then reprised the role with the Savannah Voice Festival to great acclaim. Mr. Green has been lauded for his performances as “Guglielmo” in Così fan tutte, “Marcello” in La bohème, 

“Dr. Rappaccini” in La Hija de Rappaccini, “Count Almaviva” in Le nozze di Figaro, and the title role in Don Giovanni. For his performance of “Germont” in La Traviata, Mr. Green received the Opera Performance of the Year Award from Illinois Opera Theatre and received accolades for his commanding performance of “Elijah” in Mendelssohn’s Elijah with the Omaha Symphony. 

Mr. Green was praised for his recent performance as the bass soloist in Rossini’s Stabat Mater with Hunter College. He has appeared as a featured soloist with the Baroque Artists of Champaign-Urbana in performances of Bach’s Mass in B minor, Christmas Oratorio, and St. John’s Passion, as well as Handel’s Messiah and as the title character in Handel’s Saul. He also gained critical acclaim for his performances of Haydn’s The Creation, and Vaughan Williams Sea Symphony. This performance marks Mr. Green’s return appearance with the Helena Symphony, where made his debut in Verdi’s Requiem.

Mr. Green appears courtesy of Wade Artist Management (New York, NY).

Keeping You Safe in the Concert Hall

Due to the recent increase in COVID-19 cases and new variants emerging in Lewis and Clark County and the United States, the Helena Symphony will take necessary precautions to keep our musicians, staff, and audience protected. The Helena Symphony will continue to follow CDC guidelines throughout Season 67 and monitor the daily transmission rates within our county. When the transmission rate is high or substantial, audience members will be required to wear a mask while in the concert hall. On concert nights when the transmission is moderate or low, individuals will be encouraged to wear a mask, but are not required to do so.

Each member of the Helena Symphony Orchestra & Chorale will be tested prior to rehearsals and prior to each concert. This will ensure each musician present on stage is negative for COVID-19. The Helena Symphony will continue to work closely with the county health department and the city of Helena throughout the Season to ensure the safety of our musicians, staff, and audience. If you have questions about how the Helena Symphony will be adapting to the evolving COVID-19 situation this Season, please call our office at 406.442.1860.

About the Program – By Allan R. Scott ©


Born: 7 July 1860 in Kaliště, Bohemia
Died: 18 May 1911 in Vienna, Austria  

“Whoever listens to my music intelligently will see my life transparently revealed.” Gustav Mahler’s telling remark not only offers a clue to his own life but also reveals that, for Mahler, the composer’s life and art were inseparable. 

Born in a village on the border of Bohemia and Moravia, Mahler grew up in a German-speaking Jewish home, the son of an enterprising, self-educated father, who acquired a successful brandy distillery, and a well-to-do mother. By the age of ten, Mahler gained the notice of his town after performing a piano recital and by fifteen he entered the Conservatory in Vienna where he achieved Honors. 

As a child, Mahler seemed to dwell in a dream world, isolating himself from family tensions, brutality (Mahler witnessed the brutal rape of a young girl by soldiers when he was only 11), and from the all-too-familiar pain of bereavement. Of Mahler’s eleven siblings, five died in infancy; his youngest brother died at the age of 13; and one of his closest brothers committed suicide at the age of 25. From childhood, Mahler was acutely aware of death and yet equally conscious of the beauty that remained for the living.

Despite Mahler’s academic successes as a student in Vienna, he realized that he was unlikely to earn a living as a composer. After failing to win a composition competition, Mahler turned to conducting and found immediate success. Living in a city strongly influenced by the operas of Richard Wagner, Mahler mostly conducted opera, serving as music director of the Vienna Opera and, for a brief time, New York’s Metropolitan Opera. He also conducted in Leipzig and Prague, and was the first music director of the New York Philharmonic. Even as his career as a composer began to take shape, Mahler was best known internationally as a conductor.

By his late thirties Mahler abandoned his Jewish faith and converted to Catholicism. Some critics suggest that Mahler’s conversion was in part a pragmatic response to widespread anti-Semitism in the Viennese music world. In any case, Mahler was a deeply spiritual individual, although he did not deeply embrace any organized religion, but like many artists, he was preoccupied to the point of obsession with the afterlife. 

Though Mahler required total freedom and long periods of silence and solitude, he did eventually marry. Alma Schindler, a woman noted in Vienna for her beauty and intellect, was 19 years Mahler’s junior. Alma was the object of Mahler’s affection until his death nine years after they were married, but their relationship was a tumultuous one. Mahler insisted on Alma surrendering her own career as a composer, while for her part, Alma eventually sought out other lovers. After Mahler’s death, Alma remarried twice, but always prided herself as the widow of the famous composer until her death in 1964 at the age of 86.

In almost every work Mahler composed there exists the conflict between life and death, and there is a search for eternal beauty amidst the suffering and pains of everyday life. In Mahler’s mind, the world was a glorious place in which ecstasy and human suffering were closely linked. After the death of his oldest daughter in 1907, Mahler learned of his own chronic heart condition, inherited from his mother. Mahler died before his fifty-first birthday, ending a lifelong romance with death.

As a composer, Mahler stood in the shadow of his contemporary, friend, and artistic rival, Richard Strauss. While Strauss’ tone poems such as Also Sprach Zarathustra and operas such as Elektra and Salome were widely acclaimed in Europe, Mahler’s compositions remained controversial; however, as music critic Ernst Otto Notnagel said, “Strauss reigned at the time, but the future belonged to Mahler.” If Mahler-the-conductor was a celebrity, Mahler-the-composer was a prophet who was rejected in his own time and anticipated the future of music. Georg Göhler, a conductor and contemporary of Mahler, suggested that “Mahler was … not a man of his time because he made no concessions to taste or the fashions of the day. He offered nothing to his world, but would offer that much more to the future.”

For his part, Mahler believed in the significance of his work and was frustrated that “his time” had not yet come. “Must we always die before the public allows us to live?” Mahler wrote. 

Today’s audiences identify with Mahler’s music because it offers answers to their search for eternal beauty, for the meaning of life, and for a better world. Mahler’s works have a powerful appeal to a wide range of emotions, from the serene to the passionate; they range in tone from the ironic to the sublime. Mahler wrote in a letter to his conducting protégé Bruno Walter:

There is no doubt that our music involves everything human, including the intellect. When we make music we do not paint or tell stories. Music represents the whole human being – feeling, thinking, breathing, and suffering.

Mahler vowed to live to complete his tenth symphony, thereby avoiding the fate of Beethoven, Schubert, and Dvořák who all died after their ninth symphonies. As fate would have it, Mahler died after completing only the first movement of his Tenth Symphony. Mahler asked for no monument and his tomb bears nothing but his name. 

As difficult as it is to resist reading his life in his artistic achievements, Mahler speaks best when questions of biography are suspended and we merely listen. Norman Lebrecht summarizes: 

A hero to some, to others a sick neurotic, the man and his music are central to our understanding of the course of civilization and the nature of human relationships. [His music] is a voyage of discovery that combines self-revelation, consolation, and renewal. Mahler’s remedy is there whenever we need it. Each symphony is a search engine for inner truths. To know Mahler is ultimately to know ourselves.

Parallel Events / 1884

Sino-French War begins

Grover Cleveland is elected the 22nd U.S. President

The Washington Monument is completed, making it the largest structure in the world at the time

Dow Jones index is created

First Oxford English Dictionary is published

Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is published

Local anesthesia is invented

U.S. President Harry S. Truman and U.S. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt are born

Composer Bedrich Smetana, Alice Roosevelt (wife of Teddy Roosevelt), and Martha Roosevelt (mother of Teddy Roosevelt) die

Blumine (Blossoms)
Mahler’s Blumine is scored for two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, trumpet, harp, and divided strings.
Duration: 7 Minutes

Mahler was the culmination of the movement that began with Beethoven – where the art and the artist were entirely inseparable. The most ardent of the Romantics, Mahler believed in the bond between human existence and music, and spent most of his career pursuing this lofty aim. While much of the trauma in Mahler’s life occurred before the time of his First Symphony, Mahler embodied profound thoughts and emotions in this early work. 

Mahler’s overall idea in his First Symphony, and in all of Mahler’s symphonies, is that life comprises a countless number of feelings and sensations; a ceaseless ebb and flow of sentiments gliding together, combining, and then disappearing in the complexity of an emotional life. From child-like simplicity to transcendent profundity and parody, Mahler’s First Symphony “will be something of which the world has never heard before,” he proclaimed.

Though he did not marry until 1902, Mahler had several relationships with women, and at least three love affairs made an impact on the First Symphony, one of which was his relationship with soprano Johanne Richter. His obsession with Johanne ignited the composer to begin writing the famous Songs of a Wayfarer and seven pieces of incidental music for a play including Blumine (Blossoms). Mahler described Blumine as a “sentimentally impassioned love episode” – a serenade for Richter. 

Using a smaller orchestra compared his other works, Mahler sets Blumine to be a lyrical song for solo trumpet alternating with the melancholy beauty of the oboe. As with other music, Mahler inserted the work as the original second movement in his Symphony No. 1, but after three performances of it he removed the Blumine movement. It is not entirely clear as to why he amputated Blumine from the First Symphony, but Mahler claimed it was “too sentimental and became annoyed with it” or he was overtly aware of the negative press reviews the movement received. Perhaps because the first six notes played by the solo trumpet’s opening phrase are identical to the first six notes of the final movement’s theme of Brahms’ First Symphony. 

Whatever the real reason, Blumine remained severed from the First Symphony in every revision Mahler made to the larger work, although occasionally a performance may include it today. The score was lost until it was rediscovered in 1959 and published in 1968.

The brief Blumine is a gentle setting free of Mahler’s characteristic tension, stress, and epic triumphs. Mahler’s main biographer, Henry-Louis de La Grange, describes Blumine is more “Mendelssohn-like, pretty, charming, lightweight, urbane, and repetitious – just what Mahler’s music never is.”

Dismissed by Mahler, too sentimental or not – Blumine remains a reflective musical utterance that is welcomed when life needs a moment of simplicity and calm.

Parallel Events / 1901

U.S. President William McKinley is assassinated. Theodore Roosevelt becomes 26th President

British Queen Victoria dies

Bruckner’s Sixth Symphony and Mahler’s Symphony 

No. 4 premiere

Composer Giuseppe Verdi and 23rd U.S. President Benjamin Harrison die

Walt Disney, jazz musician Louis Armstrong, comedian Herbert Zeppo Marx, violinist Jascha Heifetz, and actors Gary Cooper and Clark Gable are born

First New Year’s Day Mummers Parade in Philadelphia

Adagietto from Symphony No. 5
Mahler’s Adagietto from his Symphony No. 5 is scored harp and divided strings.
Duration: 10 minutes

“The Adagietto was Mahler’s declaration of love to Alma!” 

– Conductor Wilhelm Mengelberg

The Fifth Symphony is a very tough nut to crack for listeners given its strange blend of heavy nostalgia, brooding melancholy, and biting cynicism. It opens with a funeral march led by a lone trumpet that immediately calls the audience to attention, demanding to be heard, yet soul-searching, a work that searches for the ultimate exaltation of life through the blackest despair. 

Orchestrated for harp and strings only, the fourth movement titled “Adagietto – very slow” has become one of Mahler’s most loved creations. The movement is unfortunately associated somewhat with death and mourning, and while that is a reasonable understanding, it is more of a love song without words, specifically one for Alma Schindler. During the course of composing the Fifth Symphony Mahler’s personal life underwent a radical change – he met and married Alma Schindler and they gave birth to their first daughter. Perhaps as a result of this new and unexpected happiness, Mahler’s Fifth turned out to be somewhat different from what he originally intended. 

Sent to Alma with no note other than the written notes of the fourth movement (Alma was a musician), she understood Mahler’s love note. With instructions such as “soulful,” “with warmth,” and “with deepest emotion,” the fourth movement remains a moment of absolute still beauty with aching suspensions and bitter-sweet dissonances. 

Mahler started a tradition of performing the Adagietto outside the context of the complete Fifth Symphony. Today the Adagietto has been used to express grief and celebrate love. It evokes overwhelming emotional pain coupled with bliss. It seems to cause time to stand still amidst the intensity of life, allowing us to escape and truly feel what it means to be human.

Parallel Events / 1896

William McKinley elected 25th U.S. President

Utah becomes 45th U.S. state

Nicholas II crowned Russian Tsar

Henry Ford test-drives first automobile

Charles Dow publishes first edition of Dow-Jones Industrial Average

Tsunami in Japan kills 27,000 people

Puccini’s opera La Bohème premieres

John Philip Sousa composes Stars and Stripes Forever March

“When the Saints Go Marching In” is written

First kiss on film

“What the Wild Flowers Tell Me” from Symphony No. 3
Mahler’s “What the Wild Flowers Tell Me” arranged by Benjamin Britten is scored for piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, trombone, glockenspiel, suspended cymbal, triangle, tambourine, rute, harp and divided strings.
Duration: 9 minutes

By the summers of 1895 and 1896 Mahler created his longest work, his Third Symphony, which at nearly 100 minutes, was also the longest symphony ever composed. Given mountain lake setting in which Mahler composed, the Third Symphony was almost pre-determined to take nature as its subject. Mahler recalled that he absorbed nature throughout his days those summers in his mountain retreat, staring out the window as storms swept across the lake and walking in the forest after a long day’s work. Initially the Third Symphony evolved into a seven- movement work and after the first summer of working on the Symphony Mahler sketched a schematic program to accompany the work. The second movement was originally titled “What the Wild Flowers Tell Me,” but the subtitles to each movement were removed.

Mahler’s first effort on the Third Symphony was the charming minuet that is now the Symphony’s second movement (“What the Wild Flowers Tell Me”). Mahler called it “the most carefree thing that I have ever written – as carefree as only flowers are. It all sways and waves in the air… like flowers bending on their stems in the wind.” Mahler wanted to convey nature which connects human observers to God and the unknown. “It always strikes me as odd that most people, when they speak of ‘nature’ think only of flowers, little birds, and woodsy smells. No one knows the god Dionysus, the great Pan.” Pan, the Greek god of shepherds and flocks, of mountains, fittingly, was also known for his music, capable of arousing inspiration, sexual desire, and panic. 

English composer Benjamin Britten composed an arrangement of the movement for traditional size orchestra to perform outside of the complete Third Symphony. “What the Wild Flowers Tell Me” captures Mahler at a time when he sought escape from the stress and politics of a conducting career, and gives a sense of the much-needed solace we all need to find consolation and clarity.

Parallel Events / 1842

U.S. and Britain settle dispute over Canadian border

U.S. passes first child labor laws

New York Philharmonic gives first performance

London Illustrated News is first published

Mount St. Helen’s erupts in Washington state

Jules Verne writes Around the World in 80 Days

Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd marry

Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony, Verdi’s opera Nabucco, and Glinka’s opera Russlan & Ludmilla premiere

Composers Sir Arthur Sullivan and Jules Massenet, Outlaw Jesse James, and German astronomer Hermann Karl Vogel are born

Paper becomes used for Christmas cards

Sewing machine is patented


Born: Pesaro, Italy, 29 February 1792
Died: Passy, Italy, 13 November 1868

Stabat Mater
Rossini’s Stabat Mater is scored for two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, divided strings, mixed chorus, and soprano, mezzo soprano, tenor, and baritone solos.
Duration: 62 minutes

The son of a municipal trumpeter in a small Italian village, Gioacchino Rossini revealed his own musical ability at a very early age, and by his early teens was proficient not only on the piano but also on the viola and the horn. The young Rossini was also in demand as a boy soprano, and soon began to compose. His mother was a soprano and between the two parents they patched a livelihood together. Often moving to different towns for work, Rossini was able to gain some formal musical education from noted Italian composers.

When Rossini was eighteen he left his schooling in Liceo for a commission to write a one-act opera in Venice. This first work, La Cambiale di Matrimonio, was successful enough to lead to several other commissions for one-act comic operas, but the first major work of Rossini’s was the full length dramatic opera Tancredi, based on a tragedy by Voltaire. Rossini quickly found himself famous throughout Italy, and was now invited to compose operas in Milan and Naples. The opera business in early nineteenth century Italy was very hectic. Every season there were two to three operas a year for each opera house and the public expected to hear at least two new operas that were composed specifically for the presenting theatre and its singers. In most cases the composer would receive the libretto only a few weeks in advance of the premiere performance, so often composers had to use previously composed material. 

Even the celebrated Rossini had to work under these pressures: he composed more than thirty operas in little over a dozen years, often writing them in less than three weeks. In many cases, Rossini used material of his previously published operas and presented them in the new opera. His most popular work, The Barber of Seville, was composed in less than two weeks, although much of the music had already served in other (non-comic) operas. 

Rossini’s career continued to grow, writing other popular operas such as Otello, Mosè, La donna del lago, The Thieving Magpie, Semiramide, and William Tell, his most influential work written for the Paris Opera. Curiously, Rossini never composed another opera after William Tell and was only 37 years old, and yet he lived for another thirty-nine years.

When William Tell premiered, Rossini’s final opera, in Paris in 1829, he was the most famous composer in the world. While he never wrote another opera and vowed to never compose again, Rossini did create one his most powerful works nearly a dozen years later. It took some convincing from Rossini’s friend, patron, and financial advisor, Alexandre-Marie Aguardo, during a trip to Spain with Rossini. A member of the Spanish court and admirer of Rossini suggested that the retired composer set music to the text of Stabat Mater – the 13th century Latin poem about the Virgin Mary grieving the murder of her son on the cross. The text, which was not adopted into the Roman Catholic liturgy until 1727, had already been used by important composers such as Palestrina, Pergolesi, and Alessandra and Domenico Scarlatti (and would later be used by Liszt, Dvořák, and Verdi). After being amazed by a performance in 1820 of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater (composed in 1736), Rossini committed to never using the text, and in 1831 during his trip to Spain, he originally declined the invitation to compose a Stabat Mater. Later that year, however, because of the importance of the requester, Rossini began working on his own version.

Six of the ten movements were finished before Rossini was derailed with illness from composing, and he entrusted his friend and conductor Giovanni Tadolini to complete the remainder of the score. In March 1832, Rossini sent the score entirely as his own to benefactor Don Francisco Varela, who in return sent a gold snuffbox studded with eight diamonds. At Rossini’s request, there would only be a private performance later that year. That might have been the end of the story and Rossini’s Stabat Mater might have become a forgotten and somewhat controversial work, but Varela died five years later, and the score was sold at auction and ended up at a French publisher who announced there would be a public performance. Rossini initiated legal action to prevent the performance, and quickly began to rewrite the sections that he did not compose himself. He added three new movements: one for a tenor solo; one for a virtuosic duet between the two female soloists; and a powerful aria for bass soloist. He also rewrote the entire finale using all of the forces – orchestra, chorus, and soloists. The fully completed score as we experience today was performed in Italy and conducted by Italian composer Donizetti. Astonished to hear a new work by the supposedly retired Rossini, the audience went wild, so much so that three movements had to be repeated.

 It was clear to listeners in 1842 as it is today that Rossini’s creative genius had not waivered. To many, his Stabat Mater picked up where William Tell had left off. The Stabat Mater captures the emotional weight of the text coupled with the musical freshness, dramatic brilliance, and vocal expressiveness that is the hallmark of Rossini’s writing. As with Verdi’s Requiem that came later (Rossini’s death was one of the original inspirations for Verdi’s Requiem), Rossini’s Stabat Mater is often criticized for being too theatrical to be a sacred work, but Rossini considered the undeniable drama to be “opera’s offering to the Church.” And like Verdi, Rossini was not very religious, and yet both composed two of the most dramatic works that capture the power of sacred text more than almost any other. On his death bed and while receiving last rites, Rossini was asked the traditional questions about his faith. Instead of a simple yes, Rossini responded with “would I have been able to compose the Stabat Mater if I had not had faith?”

MASTERWORKS CONCERT III: Ravel’s Piano Concerto with Pianist Jon Nakamatsu
MASTERWORKS CONCERT I: Opening Night ~ Beethoven’s Ninth